Schools and colleges across the northwest have swung into action to produce face masks and life-saving valves, using their 3D printers and laser cutters.
Chris Hillidge, teacher and CAS Community Leader, is co-ordinating the project which is seeing the team of schools produce up to 250 face shields a day. He spoke to Victoria Temple about the project.
It’s a remarkable tale of how schools, a diving snorkel, a supermarket and teachers are coming together to save lives.
Chris Hillidge is Director of STEM, including computer science, at The Challenge Academy Trust which runs schools and colleges in Warrington.
He’s also a CAS lead for Warrington and teaches at Beamont Collegiate Academy which has a track record in producing equipment.
The school is home to the Fablab Warrington, which can take an idea from a ‘piece of paper to market,’ with its 3D printers and computer numerical-controlled cutting machine.
“We’ve worked with lots of companies before. We’ve produced medical devices in the past, mainly as prototypes for people setting up businesses and worked with inventors and others. We have got a good track record in thinking of innovative ways of using our technology,” said Chris.
“When we saw the situation developing with the coronavirus pandemic, we thought, what can we do?
“We had seen that in Italy some makers had produced a valve which worked to convert a snorkling mask from superstore Decathlon into a breathing apparatus similar to CPAP.
“So we made some on our 3D printer and shared our prototype on LInkedin and Twitter.”
The response was overwhelming. Chris was contacted by Greater Manchester’s Critical Care team and met with the lead consultant at Bolton Royal ICU.
“He agreed that it would be medically useful and asked if we could produce hundreds.
“It’s not a ventilator but it will be useful and it saved lives in Italy.”
Chris also put a social media appeal for more masks and, within an hour he was talking to the CEO of Decathlon UK who is now releasing stock of the masks to NHS trusts across the UK
Now Chris’ ‘manufacturing team’ are making the switch to face-shields, as PPE for medical staff, mainly to be used by GPs in the area.
“We contacted all schools in the area and asked if they could get involved. Now we’re working with 15 schools and colleges across the Greater Manchester areas to co-ordinate production of face-shields.
“From a standing start we’ll soon be producing 250 face-shields a day, and we’re co-ordinating production and distribution.
“It’s been a phenomenal effort by schools across Warrington.
“We’ve all got relatives and friends working in the NHS and we know there’s a real need for equipment. If we can help in any way we can, we will.”